(As always, this is my opinion and may not reflect the opinion of my employers. I am rambling on a bit here, but this is an accumulation of various thoughts that have been going on in my poor little head for the last little while :D)
I'm just listening to a TEDx Talk,When I grow up I want to be happy: One student's experience of hacking his education:
This brought me back to a thought that has been going around in my head for quite some time: If I had 'the power', what would the successful schools of the future look like?
I have to backtrace here a little, as for most of us, my opinions and thoughts are shaped by my background and experiences.
I grew up in Germany, in a semi-rural region in the state of Bavaria, which has in my opinion a very old fashioned school system: After 4 years at primary school, students are separated into three different streams of schools, based on their mid year grades in maths, German and social studies. The lowest stream, Hauptschule, will lead to an apprenticeship after completion of y9 (I believe there have been some changes since, I have not kept up to date really). The reality is that many German parents do not want their children to go down this path, it often is the school for children of immigrants. Then there is Realschule, which leads to white collar jobs; it has a slightly better 'reputation' as after completion of y10 a student has the opportunity to enter another school and complete y11&12. This was the type of school I had trained for. And then there is Gymnasium, the school that most parents want their children to go to, the only stream that leads to full university entrance and therefore the school that all future teachers come out of (and then during teacher training they have to learn about the type of school they will teach in). Anyway, much could be said about this, but that would be sidetracking.
After 4 years at university I cam to New Zealand and completed my Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Secondary) in Whangarei. Straight out of the course I started teaching in the Bay of Islands as music teacher and HoD Music. From there I went to another high school as HoD Music. Then life started to become a bit more 'interesting' and I worked in parent education in the Far North, in the homes of parents of 0 - 3y olds. Back to high school as music teacher briefly, a stint a Playcentre as supervisor, and then I spent just under 5 years as Liaison Teacher for The Correspondence School, visiting students in their homes or their places of study. I returned into the classroom for 15 months at an intermediate school, some time at MoE Special Education, and now I have been in the e-learning facilitator role for 13 months. It's not quite your ordinary run-of-the-mill teaching career (which does make it quite hard to fit into the 'mould' some times - let me know if you know of a mould that fits me once my contract finishes at the end of the year, will you?).
Having had these diverse experiences and lots and lots of contact with parents and times in homes, I believe that while the education system in general is working for some of our students, it isn't for some of the others, and even for the ones it does work for, we could make improvements. Just a disclaimer here: I have never worked in cities, always in the rural areas of the Far North, hence my opinion is solely based on this.
What is we truly thought of a village raising the children? And how big is our village?
An American psychologist I used to work with said to me once "there is no wonder we have such high teen suicide rates in NZ, you can't go anywhere where you don't meet anyone you know" - there truly is only 2 degrees of separation in New Zealand! I can attest to this, I have only been in New Zealand for coming up 17 years, and I can barely walk into any school in the north without meeting someone I know. So let's look at the size of 'my village':
I don't even live in a village, I'm a few km down the valley. Depending who I talk to, I will describe where I live differently - name of the township, name of the valley, I might say north of Kaikohe, inland from Kerikeri or an hour north of the last traffic lights in Whangarei (that is the truth!) - so all of that is part of 'my village' to a certain degree. My children attended a lovely little primary school about 17km from our home (due to our prior connections) where the majority of students busses in. So that town and the places their friends come from are part of 'my village', too. I shop in Kaikohe and in Kerikeri, so they are part of 'my village'. I work in schools 80km north west, 80 & 85km north east, 100km south west and 60km south east - so that makes the rest of Northland my extended village also.
So if I see for example Kaikohe and Kerikeri as part of my village, what can I do for the children there? I have to say the schools in our area are working extremely hard, and many are having great results. Using my magic wand, I would love to see that everyone in education joined my view in all of us looking after all children - many people probably do already. After all, they will all be our future community members, there is no "I won't buy from the supermarket you are working at because you went to the other school!". I am not sure if our system is set up for it, but I would love to eliminate any 'ours' and 'theirs' thinking, in a way of schools feeling another school is taking 'their' students away from them - I think this might apply more to secondary than primary schools, often in the news they are talking about the 'zones' of the city schools and how living in the zone for one school can be a lot more expensive than living in a different school's zone. If all school worked together, would there be a way to get out of this??
I wish all schools could sit down and work out together what their particular strength is that they can offer students, e.g. there might be a TKKM, a Christian School, a school offering vocational pathways, a school focussing on arts / drama / music, a school with focus on academia etc. If we could ensure that there was easy transition between schools, students wouldn't have to get locked into the one or the other at an early age (like in Germany) because just like Logan says in his TEDx talk, they don't know yet what they want to be - except happy!
A school wouldn't have to be jack-of-all-trades (in our rural areas, it can be so hard to get specialist teachers: Often enough if a foreign language is offered for example, it finishes when that teacher leaves). However, what if there is just one school in an area??? I like the idea of effectively linking in with distance / online learning (though at this point in time I don't think it's as good yet as working together with at least some f2f interaction), because bussing all around a district is a waste of time in my opinion (I spend way too much time in the car every week...). Also, your local teachers, knowing you and your community, could be able to support you in your village much better than someone who doesn't know your village.
Many schools are already looking at linking in to local knowledge and expertise and I think this is great, another example where the community is raising the children by sharing their knoweldege (and also learnign from and with the children).
Is this a silly idea? I would love to hear what you think about this!
Another of my thoughts is about truly valuing learning outside 9-3 and the school grounds. I am the first to admit how annoyed I used to get when my students were away for a day and missed out on the vital work in my class (honestly, in my early secondary teaching days I didn't really care what else they missed out on, never mind what they gained from being away! How sad is that!). I have taken my children to Germany for 5 weeks last year and they learnt more and different things than they would have learnt at school (and my oldest still came away with awesome grades in his Y9 Cambridge Checkpoint exams). There are various reasons why students are away - looking after little brothers and sisters does not rank very highly in my opinion, but there might be some really good points in that. Visiting dad in prison is another sadly common reason for being absent at one of the schools I used to work at - who am I to say that visiting dad is less important than my school work?? Going to a relative's tangi is important, more important than analysing a classical music score!
So if I acknowledge that experiences outside school during class time are important, how can I help my students to
a) not fall behind in school work
b) support / incorporate their learning from outside school?
With modern technologies, a) can be solved more easily than previously: I can create a site and post work / tasks on there, accessible anywhere, anytime. My students could create shared notes in a Google Doc about the content of a class, also shared with the student who was away. I could set up flipped lessons that get discussed in class and / or online, we could video and post what is going on in class. Students could use blogs to reflect on what they have learnt.
For b) I need to go back to what I have been thinking and blogging about a lot last year: Relationships. We need to have a relationship with our students to realise what is going on, why they are away. We need to foster an atmosphere where they dare tell someone / you that they have been away to visit dad in prison. Where they feel they are not being judged or blamed. What about giving students a voice in their learning and ask them about how what they are experiencing outside school is fitting in with school? Is school offering relevance to their life?
Digital Technologies again can be a help: When we went to Germany, my boys wrote a blog (admittedly, it was a bit of a chore for me trying to get them to do it - except for the post about Legoland lol). Photographs, videos, written and spoken reflections. This will not be appropriate for all occasions, but for example in the case of an oversea's holiday, they pictures a student chooses to post can give the teacher an insight about what is important for them and can provided topic for discussion, reflections etc.
So what would my successful schools of the future look like (if I had 'the power'): They would
Look at all students in a village as their students and teach to their strengths so all students get a great education
Use an online platform for collaboration and creativity, create flipped and rewindable learning, synchronous and assynchronousMake strong connections with individuals and their experiences and skills both inside and out of schoolProvide relevant, targeted learning opportunities
Where did I put that magic wand??? What would your successful schools of the future look like??